The theme for this year’s International Women’s Day is Press for Progress. Nicola Dibb, executive director and founder of Women in Social Housing (WISH) explains why this message is so important for influencing change in the housing and construction sectors
Despite the growing skills shortage affecting the UK construction sector, women remain hugely underrepresented within the industry, especially in leadership positions.
Women make up 47% of the UK workforce yet under a third (27%) of housing associations are led by women and they account for just 11% of construction employees.
Research has shown that a perceived lack of career progression is putting women off entering the housing and construction sectors and a survey commissioned by RICS last year revealed that almost a third are afraid of sexism holding them back from pursuing senior roles in construction.
Male-led companies tend to recruit from the same talent pool and stick to what they know, all too often overlooking women for the top jobs.
The growing skills shortage provides a golden opportunity to attract more ambitious young women into housing and construction but that won’t happen if they feel unable to achieve their true potential or if the sector isn’t promoted in a way that they can relate to.
Campaigns such as International Women’s Day are hugely important for highlighting gender disparity and the very real struggles that many women face in the workplace, across all sectors.
This year’s campaign theme is #PressforProgess and that is exactly what we need to be doing in housing and construction, where leadership remains pale, male and stale.
Change has to come from within and the sector must press for progress, combat inequality and address the issues that are holding women back.
Addressing career progression for women working in housing, challenging stereotypes and barriers and encouraging confident, successful behaviour is one of the cornerstones of the WISH vision.
The organisation was set up in 1998 by myself and cofounder Debra Constance as an informal group where women could meet and network in an inclusive and supportive environment and brings together women from social housing and construction, both private and public sectors.
We realised that men and women networked differently, with men tending to develop broad networks with many people they maybe don’t know very well, and women narrower ones based on building up relationships that develop over time.
WISH embraced the different way that women communicate, creating safe spaces for making connections, exploration, personal development and learning. Networking remains a huge part of what we do – giving women the opportunity to share experiences and knowledge with their peers, boosting confidence and giving them a voice.
WISH has grown organically over the years to eight regions – a testament to the inspirational, inclusive and supportive environment the network creates – and now has 500 members and up to 3,000 other women and men who support the network and attend events.
Reaching out to the younger generation is also important to WISH and our ‘Change the Face of Housing’ initiative introduces girls still in education to the diverse career opportunities available while our new mentoring scheme will support women at all stages of their career, helping them to progress through the ranks.
WISH believes that top down, cultural change is necessary to address gender imbalance, especially at senior level and empowering and inspiring more women into leadership roles is vital not only to the sectors’ success but to bringing ambitious young people into housing and construction.
Men and women working within the sectors must press for progress if we are to stand any chance of addressing the skills shortage and creating strong workforces for the future.
Executive director and founder of Women in Social Housing (WISH)